Study shows some exoplanets may have greater variety of life than exists on Earth

Goldschmidt Conference

This artist's concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets' diameters, masses and distances from the host star, as of February 2018. 3 of the 7 exoplanets are in the 'habitable zone', where liquid water is possible. See
This artist’s concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets’ diameters, masses and distances from the host star, as of February 2018. 3 of the 7 exoplanets are in the ‘habitable zone’, where liquid water is possible. See

A new study indicates that some exoplanets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself has. “This is a surprising conclusion”, said lead researcher Dr Stephanie Olson, “it shows us that conditions on some exoplanets with favourable ocean circulation patterns could be better suited to support life that is more abundant or more active than life on Earth.”

The discovery of exoplanets has accelerated the search for life outside our solar system. The huge distances to these exoplanets means that they are effectively impossible to reach with space probes, so scientists are working with remote sensing tool such as telescopes, to understand what conditions prevail on different exoplanets. Making sense of these remote observations requires the development of sophisticated models for planetary climate and evolution to allow scientists to recognize which of these distant planets that might host life.

Presenting a new synthesis of this work in a Keynote Lecture at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Congress in Barcelona, Dr Stephanie Olson (University of Chicago) describes the search to identify the best environments for life on exoplanets:

“NASA’s search for life in the Universe is focused on so-called Habitable Zone planets, which are worlds that have the potential for liquid water oceans. But not all oceans are equally hospitable–and some oceans will be better places to live than others due to their global circulation patterns”.

Olson’s team modelled likely conditions on different types of exoplanets using the ROCKE-3D software*, developed by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), to simulate the climates and ocean habitats of different types of exoplanets.

“Our work has been aimed at identifying the exoplanet oceans which have the greatest capacity to host globally abundant and active life. Life in Earth’s oceans depends on upwelling (upward flow) which returns nutrients from the dark depths of the ocean to the sunlit portions of the ocean where photosynthetic life lives. More upwelling means more nutrient resupply, which means more biological activity. These are the conditions we need to look for on exoplanets”.

They modelled a variety of possible exoplanets, and were able to define which exoplanet types stand the best chance of developing and sustaining thriving biospheres.

“We have used an ocean circulation model to identify which planets will have the most efficient upwelling and thus offer particularly hospitable oceans. We found that higher atmospheric density, slower rotation rates, and the presence of continents all yield higher upwelling rates. A further implication is that Earth might not be optimally habitable–and life elsewhere may enjoy a planet that is even more hospitable than our own.

There will always be limitations to our technology, so life is almost certainly more common than “detectable” life. This means that in our search for life in the Universe, we should target the subset of habitable planets that will be most favourable to large, globally active biospheres because those are the planets where life will be easiest to detect–and where non-detections will be most meaningful”.

Dr Olson notes that we don’t yet have telescopes which can identify appropriate exoplanets and test this hypothesis, but says that “Ideally this work this will inform telescope design to ensure that future missions, such as the proposed LUVOIR or HabEx telescope concepts, have the right capabilities; now we know what to look for, so we need to start looking”.

Commenting, Professor Chris Reinhard (Georgia Institute of Technology) said:

“We expect oceans to be important in regulating some of the most compelling remotely detectable signs of life on habitable worlds, but our understanding of oceans beyond our solar system is currently very rudimentary. Dr. Olson’s work represents a significant and exciting step forward in our understanding of exoplanet oceanography”.

Professor Reinhard was not involved in this work, this is an independent comment.


The first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, and currently more than 4000 exoplanets have been confirmed so far. The nearest know exoplanet is Proxima Centauri b, which is 4.25 light years away. Currently much of the search for life on exoplanets focuses on those in the habitable zone, which is the range of distances from a star where a planet’s temperature allows liquid water oceans, critical for life on Earth.

*See ROCKE-3D website,

Conference website:


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John M. Ware
August 24, 2019 2:41 am

This article is an incredibly [literally] rich harvest of speculation from a tiny crop of facts–interesting, in an abstract sort of way, but hazardous on which to base any outlay of funds or other investment.

Reply to  John M. Ware
August 24, 2019 3:31 am

Much like those weighty tomes with “ASTROBIOLOGY” written on the spine.

Reply to  Jit
August 24, 2019 1:32 pm

The prediction about life on other planets given in this paper is based on MODELS.
The basic ingredient for life as we know it (but not the only one) is water, such as oceans.
It is not yet know if any of these planets have abundant water. Another case of models getting far, far ahead of actual data.

Reply to  donb
August 24, 2019 11:46 pm

Exactly , this is a study of a defective model, not a study of exoplanets.

“This is a surprising conclusion”, said lead researcher Dr Stephanie Olson

What is surprising about this result? You have a model with different land/ocean geometries and you find that this leads to different results. That should surprise us?

The accidental geometry of Earth’s continents is not the optimal for resource redistribution? How can that be possible, God created us as the centre of his universe … oh hang on that not what “the science” tells us. So maybe it is not surprising that the Earth is not the universal optimal configuration for resource distribution.

Does this rather trivially obvious discovery of variation in ocean currents mean more upwelling will lead to “greater variety” , I see no reasons presented for that conclusion. More ocean currents may lead to more uniformity and less “diversity” in life. Variety comes from stress and seeking out and adapting to niche environments.

Well anyway, ever a spurious non scientific claim get you some media coverage and attention for grant seeking applications. Even if you don’t know what you are talking about, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Reply to  Greg
August 25, 2019 9:56 am

Greg – nail – head.
re “The accidental geometry of Earth’s continents is not the optimal for resource redistribution? How can that be possible …“:
If we suppose that there may be many planets with life, then there is no possible reason to assume that Earth is the best one.
But if there is only one planet in the universe with life, then Earth is necessarily that planet.
So the finding that some exoplanets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself is not a surprising conclusion. It is the only possible conclusion. Until, that is, a reasonable proportion of other life-supporting planets have been studied.

Reply to  donb
August 25, 2019 8:20 am

So let’s send all the Warmunists there–models must be true, right? 😉 See if they’ll bet their lives on it!

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Jit
August 27, 2019 8:28 pm

donb August 24, 2019 at 1:32 pm

The prediction about life on other planets given in this paper is based on MODELS.
The basic ingredient for life as we know it (but not the only one) is water, such as oceans.
It is not yet know if any of these planets have abundant water. Another case of models getting far, far ahead of actual data.


Nonse. Planets in the habitable zones ALWAYS do have oceans – after all, thei’re in the habitable zone!

Hydrogen is one of the most common free gases found in the whole universe. And gases are trapped by gravity sinks – by suns!

And on the way to that sun’s, parts of these gases are captured by nearby gravity sinks: the big planets in the habitable zones!

Mark - Helsinki
Reply to  John M. Ware
August 24, 2019 3:35 am

Exactly. It’s purely speculation, and what is most stark is that they have no idea how life started on earth. Only guesses.

Heck even the age of earth, often stated as near fact, is a pure guesstimate that could be billions of years off, as the guesstimate is based on multiple layers of other guesstimates. Astronomy is I’d say 80% guesstimates (outside of what we can actually measure and analyse with actual real data)

Even the much hailed gravitational waves claims of late, first from the BICEP2 team and now LIGO, are interpretations where there is no other possible interpretation because of the belief that the universe is shaped by gravity and explosions alone, which is anti science nonsense. EM certainly has more to do with the variety in the universe than explosions and gravity.

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
August 24, 2019 6:08 am

“Exactly. It’s purely speculation, and what is most stark is that they have no idea how life started on earth. Only guesses.”

Why would we need to know how life started on earth? BTW, guesses ARE ideas.

“Heck even the age of earth, often stated as near fact, is a pure guesstimate that could be billions of years off”

That’s not how it works, Mark. What is your better guesstimate? You don’t overthrow science with pitchforks and torches, you overthrow it with better ideas.

Linda Goodman
Reply to  Gamecock
August 24, 2019 8:29 am

So you’re suggesting we ‘overthrow science with pitchforks and torches’ by addressing misconceptions? That it’s ‘science’ to pretend guesstimates are facts? And who said they aren’t ideas?

Reply to  Linda Goodman
August 24, 2019 9:53 pm

Linda, I’m with you on this. “you overthrow [science] with better ideas” is incorrect. You overthrow science (ie. a scientific hypothesis) with evidence. To overthrow a hypothesis it is sufficient to find contra evidence. You do not need to find a better hypothesis.

Reply to  Linda Goodman
August 24, 2019 11:51 pm

There are certain fields where pitchforks would be a good place to start. It would concentrate minds of those remaining in business.

Climatology is so far off the rails now that scientific method and objective review have been all but excluded from the field. Slash a burn is probably the only recourse at this stage.

Crispin in Waterloo
Reply to  Gamecock
August 25, 2019 12:39 pm

You can overthrow science with refutation. That doesn’t mean there is automatically a competing substitute theory.

It is a frequent claim that skeptics have to provide a better explanation for global warming if they demonstrate that the AG-CO2-based theory is defective. Not so. Knocking down a defective or implausible or impossible idea does not mean an alternative a) is needed and b) is accepted to be better, even without inspection.

John Tillman
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
August 24, 2019 8:17 am

The age of the earth is a measurement, with narrow error bars. It’s not off by billions of years. Radiometric dating is confirmed by the physics of the sun.

Gravity skepticism is a lot farther out there than the Sl@yers’ banned atmospheric contrarianism.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
August 24, 2019 8:30 am

Mark-Helsinki: Yours is scientific misinformation.

Actually the age of rock formations and of the earth itself is determined using the proportions of daughters of radioactive decay to the parent elements from which the daughters were formed at a known rate of decay. Moreover, different pairs of isotopes corobborate each other, eg. U235/Pb207 and K40/ Ar in age determination.

Such durable, inert minerals as Zircon form a “package” of Uranium/Lead pairs to give precise ages. Zircons are separated from, say, an ancient granite and these crystals corroborate each other in age determination.

One must not rely on apriori linear thinking for our knowledge.

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
August 24, 2019 2:30 pm

It should have read “Study of Fantasies finds that some people have more vivid and detailed fantasies than other people.”

August 24, 2019 2:43 am

No understandung of earth climate but modelling it for exoplanets ?? 😀

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Krishna Gans
August 24, 2019 7:01 am

Let’s hope they don’t use the same failed climate models they are using to forecast Earth’s future climate. If that’s the case then it’s just more GIGO.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Tom Abbott
August 24, 2019 8:23 am

Except that there is no GI. The most they have is the spectrum of the primary, the distance of the planet, and some of its orbital parameters. They can reliably infer the mass of the planet. After that it is pure fantasy. A lot less substantial than the garbage of GI.

John Tillman
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
August 24, 2019 9:28 am

I would rate the assumptions required to run GCMs on exoplanets as garbage. More speculation is required for inputs there than here. So modeling a distant super-earth puts in super-garbage.

Some day we might actually observe up close the nearest target planets. At an average speed one-tenth light, a probe could reach Proxima Centauri b in 42 years. But the star is a red dwarf, so this planet might not be hospitable.

August 24, 2019 2:51 am

The text says:”They modelled a variety of possible exoplanets”. This conflicts with the heading “Study shows some exoplanets may have greater variety of life than exists on Earth”. The heading implies they have found some habitable exoplanets. They haven’t discovered habitable planets, they have modelled them. These days everyone is out there modelling things as it is much much easier than discovering things.

John Tillman
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
August 24, 2019 4:35 am

Planets in the habitable zones around their stars have been discovered. Modeling their climates based upon the few details of their atmospheres we’ve been able to observe is of course speculative.

August 24, 2019 3:54 am

This study is a load of panspermia.

Flight Level
August 24, 2019 3:56 am

After scoring a nearly 100% fail in modelling earth climate, NASA uses the accumulated experience to tackle worlds sufficiently far away to render any reality check attempts futile.

Job well done me thinks 😉

Reply to  Flight Level
August 24, 2019 4:13 am

heheeheee… perfect.

John Tillman
Reply to  Flight Level
August 24, 2019 6:48 am

The GIGO GCMs don’t model Earth ver well. Maybe they’re better suited to other planets. Or imaginary ones.

michael hart
August 24, 2019 4:02 am

“In an infinite universe anything, even the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, is possible.”

I hope no tax payers money was spent on this “study”.

Reply to  michael hart
August 24, 2019 5:42 am

exoplanets using the ROCKE-3D software*, developed by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)

Yes, the GISS we have all come to know so well.
Dr. Gavin Schmidt is the current director.

Your tax dollars hard at work
Question: The exoplanet models were developed from the Earth models GISS uses in climate studies.
Are the Exoplanets plagued by Global Warming as Earth is?
Just asking.

michael hart
Reply to  TonyL
August 24, 2019 1:58 pm

It’s (just) possible that the software was developed to model the Earth, and they are moonlighting on their pet projects[*] or funded by private sources. It probably shows how naive I remain, to think that nobody would really get funded by state agencies to carry out and publish such silliness when there is so much important work to be done in this world.

[*A bit like some Dutch (who else?) researchers who used nuclear magnetic resonance imaging to produce internal imagery of sexual intercourse. They at least made it clear that it was done on a weekend when the machine would normally be idle and the people not in the building but doing something (doing it?) elsewhere. It was also the only academic paper I ever recall reading where the closing credits ran “John Smith would NOT like to be credited with the original idea.]

August 24, 2019 4:10 am

“may have greater variety of life” – this is totally misleading. Would only be appropriate IF life had already been found. this journalist needs a journalism refresher course.

John Tillman
Reply to  Glenn Jurena
August 24, 2019 9:08 am

Greater variety is also highly speculative. Terrestrial life is pretty diverse, although all based on the same two nucleic acids and similar proteins composed of just 21 amino acids. However if competing genetic and metabolic systems arose on another world, the most effective would be likely to outcompete the others, unless some were better at exploiting particular niches.

While life on Earth is of common descent, it’s at least theoretically possible that living things elsewhere might descend from separate “creation” events, ie abiogenetic developments.

Hypothetically, different worlds might harbor more different habitats than offered by environmental conditions here. But on Earth, life exists far below ground, high in the air, on land and sea, in hot water and ice. Some parts of the ocean are deserts with low diversity, and multicellular plants, fungi and animals rare on the surface of Antartica, except for penguins around its edges.

John Tillman
August 24, 2019 4:44 am

Life doesn’t arise via random mutation and natural selection, but thanks to chemistry and physics. Before there can be mutations and selection, there needs to be genetic material in a reproducing population of organisms. The first replicating genetic material self-assembles from nucleotides composed of compounds which form naturally not only on planets but in space.

The requisite chemical components of life abound in the universe, in interstellar space and within star systems. Life is inevitable under the right conditions.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 5:23 am

T. Golds opinion life started in the deep hot biosphere will be considered.

John Tillman
Reply to  Krishna Gans
August 24, 2019 6:34 am

That’s one possible incubator among many hypotheses, all, some or none of which may actually have been the scene of the origin of life.

James R Clarke
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 9:54 am

I really like the ‘intelligent design’ theory. And by intelligent I mean… anything and everything! There is a good chance that those who argue nature and those who argue ID are both right. We know so little about nature and even less about consciousness. One side has unwarranted certitude about physical reality, and the other side has unwarranted certitude about God.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 10:40 am

The point about science is not to have certitude, but to question everything.

We can however be sure that ID is not only anti-scientific, but demonstrably wrong. None of Behe’s purported “irreducibly complex” structures is irreducibly complex. Among other reasons it’s anti-scientific is that a scientist would have tried to find out how bacterial flagella have evolved, rather than throwing up his arms and saying, “They’re irreducibly complex”. Behe could have conducted the research so well done by others, which has shown how the many different flagella evolved. Such research has practical application in fighting pathogens. His phony religious doctrine blew it for him. He could have contributed to science rather than preaching false religion.

James R Clarke
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 2:54 pm

“The point about science is not to have certitude, but to question everything.”

Everything accept the possibility that spirituality and/or consciousness may have something to do with our physical universe? If you managed to prove that such a thing is not required to explain the universe, which I do not believe you have done, it does not rule out the possibility that it is there, nonetheless. Finding physical evidence of something that is by definition nonphysical is oxymoronic. If the nonphysical is intertwined with the physical, we would not percieve it as two different things.
That is why the discussion is ultimately one of philosophy and not the physical sciences.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 3:45 pm


I’m not trying to “disprove” spirituality. I’m just pointing out that supernatural beliefs are not science because they can’t be proven or disproven, ie confirmed or showed false.

And that’s the way God wants it.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 3:48 pm

Science can and does investigate consciousness, which arises from biology. Some researchers do seek to debunk spiritualist claims, but that’s not really a scientific discipline, but more a forensic exercise.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 6:06 am

“The highly specified (for function) and highly complex information in DNA and other information-bearing biological structures CANNOT arise without an intelligent agent creating it.”
Is here an ID school ??
Oh Nooo

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 6:31 am

The components of life do self-assemble under a variety of conditions, often with the aid of abiotic catalysts. Short chains of RNA for instance form in the liquid water bubbles in ice.

What separates life from its precursor compounds is polymerization, ie forming long chains of monomers stable enough to replicate. It’s just a chemical engineering problem, not magic or needing a designer. Indeed, only an idiotic designer would have hatched the Rube Goldberg system we’ve got.

Soon after the first generation of stars produced from H the common elements C, N and O, organic compounds formed naturally. P is less abundant in the galaxy, but more common in Earth’s crust. Amino acids, sugars, nucleobases and phosphate groups have all arrived here on meteorites. They also spontaneously self-assemble on Earth and combine into peptides and oligomers of RNA.

Nothing would stop this from happening elsewhere.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 8:49 am

So why haven’t we solved this chemical engineering problem? We cannot do, with our intelligence, knowledge, and technology, that which nature did by chance.

I am NOT arguing that there must be intelligent design or a creator. I am saying that UNTIL we are able to create a self-replicating, carbon-based life form out of material that naturally forms, we have no basis for saying we understand all the requirements for the creation of life. Clearly we do not.

Absent that ability, we can only speculate as to whether any life exists in the universe other than on Earth. I would be surprised and dismayed if it didn’t (is THIS the best the universe can do?), but there is more to the creation of life than we currently understand.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 9:11 am

You’re talking to a brick wall, John. You’ll never convert the faithful.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 9:35 am

Origin of life researchers are working through the problems involved and have solved a lot of them. Until recently, very little funding was available for this work, which remains underfunded, since the practical applications are limited at best.

With a sample of one, we know that given water, energy and the requisite elements, life arises. Earth is not uniquely so endowed. Our moon might have upped the odds here by stabilizing our parameters and inducing a protective magnetosphere from the planetary core. But other worlds ought to harbor at least microbes, if not multicells.

What gravity is still hasn’t been solved, 330 years after Newton’s Principia.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 10:01 am

There is more to most of science than we currently understand. Positing that God did everything we don’t yet understand doesn’t explain anything. That view also diminshes God, if He/She/It exists only in the gaps in our knowledge.

The point of science is to find natural explanations for observations, using the scientific method, rather than making up supernatural stories. Origin of life researchers are using the scientific method to explore how the first replicating, metabolyzing protocell capable of further evolution arose from prebiotic chemistry, leading to biochemistry and molecular biology.

Some schools of Christian theology argue that God must remain hidden. If He could be proved to exist, then what would be the value of faith? No belief would be required.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 10:15 am


I’m not aiming to convert anyone. Just want to present the facts. Most people don’t keep up on advances in origin of life research, so assume that abiogenesis is as big a mystery now as a century ago.

People are free to hold religious beliefs, but letting their faith keep them from learning about wonderful scientific discoveries since WWII deprives them of a lot of excitement, wonder and awe before the universe.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 12:27 pm

John, two fundamental problems with your statement: A sample of n=one is a logical dead-end. If there were no samples, or n+1, there would be no discussion. A sample of one can only provide the conclusion that one exists, nothing more. My DNA is a sample of one, but it is highly unlikely that it exists elsewhere. There are similar DNA, but each variation produces a different result (very fortunate for humans!). At this point in our knowledge, consideration of the frequency life in the universe must include the possibility that the ‘DNA’ that produced life may be unique, a rare combination of molecules, energy, and environment that only occurred once.

Next, I must question your remark about lack of funding. Considering that for well over fifty years I have read of experiments trying to reproduce the creation of life, I suspect there has been funding, and a continuous increase in funding, for decades. Success in this field could be transformative in the making of materials, medicines, and more. It is not just to satisfy Man’s curiosity. If you have anything supporting your contention, I will gladly change my position.

Spontaneous creation seems to be far more difficult than many believe, but so are all the alternatives.

Reply to  jtom
August 24, 2019 12:51 pm

Agreed. We haven’t even figured out how life started here. Projecting our fortunate accident across the Cosmos is foolish. Let’s wait and see. Could be a long wait.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 12:38 pm


I don’t know why you keep claiming that genetic information can only come from some outside intelligence. There is not a shred of evidence to support that baseless assertion and all the evidence in the world against.

Unless you think that God directs every single mutation creating new information, your assertion is shown false every day. Mutations make new info all the time, without any divine intervention, simply through many totally natural processes.

As I’ve mentioned before, a single simple point mutation changes sugar-eating bacteria into nylon-eaters. This mutation must have occurred countless times before, thanks to cosmic rays and other mutagenic agents, but was always lethal before nylon entered the environment.

We can trace the mutations which have produced novel structures and functions back in time in all lineages of living things. Mutations leading to humans are especially well documented, for instance in upright walking and brain development. That new genetic info evolves continuously across all life is now a trivial observation, ie a scientific fact.

What is true now was also true at the beginning. Oligomers of RNA as short as pentamers (five nucleotides) show biological activity.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 12:58 pm

It’s not an argument from any gaps. It’s simply an observation of objective reality.

Some genes, ie protein-coding sequences in a genome, are remarkably short. For instance, the SRY gene, which determines sex in humans, is only 14 base pairs long.

The first organism would have had a tiny genome. Instead of the roughly 19,000 genes in our genome (possibly fewer), the original prot-cell might have had only one. And it could have been very short. That would be barely beyond RNA oligomers known to form spontaneously today.

Just 14 doublings from that first gene gets you to 16,000 genes. Many such doublings are visible in the genomes of complex organisms such as humans.

Even if the number of genes doubles only every 100 million years on average, you get from one gene to around the size of our genome in just 1.4 billion years. Doublings actually happen more quickly than that and all the time.

No intelligent designer required. Indeed, as noted, nature shows no sign of such a designer. On the contrary, only an intensely idiotic designer would have made life on earth as it is.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 3:24 pm


Funding for OoL reearch has grown, but it’s still minuscule compared to public and private financing of other biomedical research.

A leader in the field, Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, states flatly that there is no practical application. I’m not sure of that, but compared to such related fields as synthetic biology, directed evolution and genetic engineering, he’s effectively right. The RoE would pale in comparison.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 4:38 pm

RoI. RoE from force of habit.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 11:58 pm

Some schools of Christian theology argue that God must remain hidden. If He could be proved to exist, then what would be the value of faith? No belief would be required.

proof denies faith, and without faith God disappears in a puff of smoke. Douglas Adams.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 25, 2019 9:03 am


Evolution is a scientific fact, ie a repeated observation of nature. I don’t know to what “gaping flaws” you refer.

That mutations produce new information is also a scientific fact. I’ve provided you observed instances of mutations doing so.

Mutations can be positive, neutral or negative. As with the nylon-eating mutation, a formerly deleterious mutation can become beneficial, depending upon the environment. Nature does by accident what genetic engineers do intentionally, just as natural selection does what artificial selection has done.

As noted, beneficial mutation and evolution are observed every day, in every way, all around us. Science is circling no wagons, but venturing ever farther into new frontiers.

It’s unwise to base your faith in God on a scientific frontier being impenetrable. Scientists are close to recreating conditions under which life may arise naturally, without any divine intervention. I’d urge you to read up on origin of life research.

We’ve come a long way in just the 66 years since discovery of the structure of DNA. By contrast, 146 years passed between publications of the seminal books by Copernicus and Newton, and 190 between Steno’s and Darwin’s. Naturally occuring life should be achieved within 100 years of Watson and Crick’s work. Probably sooner than that.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 25, 2019 11:12 am

Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak knows immeasurably more than I do, and he remain optimistic:

IMO it will take more than “a couple of years” to solve the remaining problems in building an evolving cellular system, but what do I know? My not very educated guess is a range of two to 20 years, most likely five to 15, with central value of ten. This breakthrough won’t be like nuclear fusion.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 25, 2019 5:30 pm


You have bought hook, line and sinker the lies of creationist professional liars.

The only difference between speciation and the evolution of new genera, repeatedly observed and created and recreated in the lab, and the evolution of new families, orders, classes and phyla is time. There is no magic barrier which keeps, for example, a lobe-finned fish from evolving in easy steps, all observed in the fossil record, genomes, comparative anatomy, proteomics and every other line of evidence, into tetrapods.

Again, I would urge you actually to study reality rather than falling for the lies against God and nature of paid blasphemers.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 30, 2019 5:14 pm

Here is how bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance through mutations creating new information:

Novel strategy fights back bacterial antibiotic resistance

Baylore researchers found a way to slow down bacterial pathogens’ evolution of resistance via neomorphic mutations.

Mutations making new information is simply a fact, observed daily in the field, in labs and hospitals.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 7:19 am

Argument from ignorance.

John Tillman
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 24, 2019 10:08 am

Our knowledge of prebiotic chemistry keeps advancing. As with most problems in science, there remain questions. There’s no reason to assume that magic be required.

We already know that lipid bilayer vesicles form spontaneously and that they readily split apart, taking their contents with them into the daughter fatty acid bubbles. We know that RNA and peptides also self-assemble. We’ve known since 1982 that RNA is a ribozyme, ie a nucleic acid able to act as a biological enzyme, thanks to its ability to form complex shapes. And a lot more relevant discoveries have been made in the past 60 years, at an accelerating pace.

That’s how science works.

John Tillman
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 24, 2019 11:59 am

Right now there are too many hypothetical possible ways for life to have evolved for all of them to investigated at once.

But some researchers are investigating the intriguing possiblity that nucleic acids and peptides (amino acid chains and protein precursors) co-developed. The mixed structure of ribosomes, where in modern cells proteins are stitched together from RNA instructions taken from DNA, supports this proposition.

Peptides have also recently been shown to improve function of “soap bubble” (lipid vesicle) proto-membranes.

John Tillman
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 24, 2019 1:04 pm

Whence do you suppose came the new genetic info in this strain of Salmonella which evolved antibiotic resistance?

Why would God cause the mutation behind this novel ability?

John Tillman
Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 24, 2019 2:04 pm

Here’s 2019 research in just one such avenue, based upon freezing. Other fruitful paths to catalyze RNA polymerization abiotically include mineral substrates, tiny rock pores, deep sea vents and wet and dry cycles in volcanic pools.

There are several plausible abiotic synthetic routes from prebiotic chemical materials to ribonucleotides and even short RNA oligomers. However, for refinement of the RNA World hypothesis to help explain the origins of life on the Earth, there needs to be a manner by which such oligomers can increase their length and expand their sequence diversity. Oligomers longer than at least 10-20 nucleotides would be needed for raw material for subsequent natural selection. Here, we explore spontaneous RNA-RNA recombination as a facile means by which such length and diversity enhancement could have been realized. Motivated by the discovery that RNA oligomers stored for long periods of time in the freezer expand their lengths, we systematically investigated RNA-RNA recombination processes. In addition to one known mechanism, we discovered at least three new mechanisms. In these, one RNA oligomer acts as a splint to catalyze the hybridization of two other oligomers and facilitates the attack of a 5′-OH, a 3′-OH, or a 2′-OH nucleophile of one oligomer onto a target atom of another. This leads to the displacement of one RNA fragment and the production of new recombinant oligomers. We show that this process can explain the spontaneous emergence of sequence complexity, both in vitro and in silico.

The whole article won’t be available without paying until April next year.

5′ is read “five-prime”. DNA and RNA are synthesized in the 5′ to 3′ direction.

The first gene (nucleotide sequence coding for a protein) might well have been the simplest possible functional RNA polymerase. RNA and DNA polymerases have undergone bewildering evolution.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 3:54 pm

I agree with you, Dean, and I think anyone who seriously contemplates the minimum requirements for engineering a life form is likely to reach the same conclusion. E.g., think how difficult it is to design a device which can find & scavenge its own fuel. Then, after you’ve written down all the specifications for your minimal bug, add one more: it must include a factory capable of making copies of itself. Designing such a wondrous device is currently far beyond our ken, and it’s certainly not something that’ll happen by accident.

However, we’ve drifted off-topic, and I don’t think we’re likely to settle the argument over spontaneous generation, a/k/a abiogenesis, by arguing about it here. So let’s discuss something more practical:

The signature of carbon-based life is an oxygen-rich atmosphere. If you find an exoplanet with lots of O2 in its atmosphere, you’ve found life.

So, is there possible spectrographic means for detecting that? For instance, are there any RF emission spectrum notches which could distinguish between an O2-rich atmosphere and a soup of the other gases commonly found in planetary atmospheres?

John Tillman
Reply to  Dave Burton
August 24, 2019 4:08 pm

Prospects for detecting oxygen, water, and chlorophyll on an exo-Earth

The people who know the most about molecular biology and biochemistry disagree with you and Dean about the odds of abiogenesis. If they thought it required magic, they wouldn’t be dedicating careers to researching it, when they could make a lot more contributions and money doing almost anything else with their brilliance, skill, experience and long, hard work.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 4:21 pm

“Life is inevitable under the right conditions”

John, when someone set up these right conditions–whatever they are–and then life forms and the experiment can be successfully replicated, then I will believe your statement.

If you’d like to actually study these issues instead of reading conflicting opinions, I recommend The Logic of Chance: The Nature and Origin of Biological Evolution by Eugene V. Koonin. It’s heavy reading but covers a lot of ground.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ralph Dave Westfall
August 24, 2019 5:33 pm

I’m familiar with Koonin.

I wonder why you would cite his work, when he has never doubted the objective reality of abiogenesis.

He has championed the view that viruses arose early in the evolution of cellular life.

I’d urge you to study up on origin of life research in this century, and late in the last. You’d be surprised how close we are to what you demand before giving up on magical, mystical, mythological stories about abiogenesis.

For instance (and this is dated, since I can’t read everything), RNA chains catalyzed abiotically by clay minerals have reached 50-mers, but probably by now well beyond that level of polymerization. The minimal length required for a functional RNA polymerase is 165 or fewer monomers. So, by this simple metric, we’re a third of the way there.

That’s to oversimplify, since replication also requires separation, but good prebiotic means of doing so have been demonstrated.

It’s antiscientific to assume that just because some process hasn’t yet been fully demonstrated, it’s impossible. Please see for instance, powered, heavier than air flight.

The time since discovering the structure of DNA and now is still far less than the time between Newton and Einstein, or Steno and Darwin.

How close are we to the “proof” that you demand? Who can say. Szostak says five years. Others say ten or 20. But there is no physical barrier to success. Just more research into molecular biology and biochemistry.

Mike Graebner
Reply to  John Tillman
August 26, 2019 8:17 am

John, So are you saying any scientist who has a religious belief and who disagrees with your premise that evolution is a fact, is deliberately lying? That would go against their beliefs.

Your statement <<>> smacks of the warmists saying that WUWT takes oil money and therefore can not be trusted to deliver truth. I could also say that OOL researchers saying they are getting closer to finding out how life started is also an appeal to get more funding. Why should I believe them.?

This is an interesting article.

I remain skeptical of Neo-Darwinism. Lab experiments use pure homochiral compounds, run under strictly controlled conditions show interesting chemistry but do not explain what happens under real world conditions.

I do try to put by biases aside and I am also open to other interpretations. Isn’t this what makes science fun?

I do find your assertion that evolution is a fact smacks of saying it is “settled science.” As you know nothing is science is ever “settled.” I do think more research on this subject is warranted.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 26, 2019 1:00 pm


It’s not a case of “settled science”, but of observation. Scientists observe nature, then build hypotheses, make predictions based upon those guesses, then test them to confirm or show them false.

Copernicus offered the hypothesis that earth goes around the sun, which we now can directly observe, so we know it’s a scientific fact. He thought orbits circular, which we now know to be wrong. Similarly, Darwin presented the hypothesis that species evolve via natural selection and other processes, which would today be called evolutionary (not Darwin’s term). We now observe evolution in action every microsecond of every day, all around us, so what was an hypothesis is now a fact, with a body of explanatory theory, which is never settled. But facts are observations about which scientists test theories and hypotheses.

Michael Graebner
Reply to  John Tillman
August 26, 2019 4:09 pm

What we see all the time is micro-evolution, like anti-biotitic resistance or Darwin’s finches, which are still finches. What I and many others have a problem with is macro-evolution which is the creation of new genera, families, orders….

Your term of “mendacious” in reference to the Discovery Institute is not a good use of that word. These scientists just have another interpretation than you do of the available data. You may as well have called them evolution deniers. There are well over 1,000 scientists who have signed the A Dissent from Darwinism Statement, that is not a handful. Many scientists who may agree with that cannot say it out loud for fear of being black listed and called heretic by the church of Darwin. Scientists are supposed to be skeptics but apparently when it comes to Darwin, that is not allowed.

I know you disagree with Dr. Tour’s science because you feel that his religion is driving his science but I would have to disagree with that, as I do not see it. All he is asking for a mechanism, and no one will describe it to him. Dr. Tour even says that the concept of universal common dissent is an elegant and robust concept. But still there are problems. This is a link of him talking about evolution ( You may discount his statements on his belief.

This link is to a paper, Top 10 Scientific Problems with Biological and Chemical Evolution ( ). Respectfully, these are real questions about the Neo-Darwinism synthesis.

Hey it has been fun.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 26, 2019 1:13 pm

That evolution is a fact isn’t an assertion. It’s an observation of objective reality.

Re “settled science”, compare evolutionary theory with the CACA hypothesis. Accept for the sake of argument that the GHE is a fact. Some might still disagree, but IMO it has been sufficiently observed to qualify. What is not at all settled is the hypothesis of Catastrophic Anthropogenic Climate Alarmism based upon this fact.

Similarly, evolution is a hard fact, but there is lively debate over aspects of evolutionary theory, such as the relative importance of selection v. stochastic processes. There is even now a school of thought supporting Lamarckian evolution as well as selection and other processes.

Nevertheless, evolution is much better understood than is gravitation.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 28, 2019 7:28 pm


Again you fell for the lies.

The origin of that particular flagellum has long since been elucidated.

Please, study the science, and reject creationist lies.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 28, 2019 7:33 pm

I don’t know if my reply has posted or not, because I got an error message. But you’re dead wrong to assert without any evidence that it’s impossible for flagella to have evolved. We now know how most if not all of them did. I’m far from up to speed on bacterial flagella research, but do know that the one cited by Behe, and included in your link, has long since been explained.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ralph Dave Westfall
August 24, 2019 5:48 pm

I’m guessing that you cite Koonin because he has concluded that abiogenesis would require 1800 RNA nucleotides, so he embraces the multiverse hypothesis, rather than creationism.

Since the publication of his book in 2012, indeed before then, it has been demonstrated, as noted, that the minimum is fewer than 165 nucleotides, which is, as noted, not all that far beyond already demonstrated spontaneous abiotic synthesis.

John Tillman
Reply to  Ralph Dave Westfall
August 24, 2019 5:52 pm

Please see my previous link to a 2019 paper showing how RNA oligomers polymerize via recombination. Or even this from 2009, before the publication of Koonin’s book:

I’d recommend that you study all OoL research, not just that which has been bogusly seized upon by creationist polemicists, who are professional liars and blasphemers against God, whom they malign as evil, deceptive and incompetent.

Mike Graebner
Reply to  John Tillman
August 24, 2019 9:44 pm

I am curious who those creationist polemicists are. Would you include James Tour as one of those? There is another book along these lines by Dr. Marcos Eberlin, Foresight: How the Chemistry of Life Reveals Planning and Purpose. He is an organic chemist from Brazil.

I know you have an objection to Dr. Tour, but any synthetic organic chemist who can build nano cars and have them move is no slouch.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 25, 2019 12:05 am

John, you’re totally ignoring the issue I raised. Let’s see some compelling empirical support for your conclusory statement that “Life is inevitable under the right conditions.”

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 25, 2019 8:44 pm


Anyone who pretends that there is reason to doubt the fact of evolution. Most of them work for mendacious organizations like the Discovery Institute or are personally invested financially in the scam of ID, like Behe.

Citing the handfull of “scientists” who for religious reasons can’t accept the objective reality of evolution is even worse than going along with the alarmist assertion of 97% consensus on “climate change”.

Evolution is simply a fact. No amount of blather can obfuscate this reality.


Here you go, to cite but a handfull of papers reaching the same conclusion:

Now please kindly present your evidence against the hypothesis of inevitable life, starting with showing these citations false. Thanks!

Reply to  John Tillman
August 25, 2019 10:04 am

Philosophical question (which might get us out of a new problem starting to emerge in the western world):

If we develop the necessary technology and create artificial life forms, can vegans then eat them?

Reply to  Mike Jonas
August 27, 2019 10:22 am

Only genetically modified Vegans will be able to eat them.

August 24, 2019 5:03 am

And this rubbish passes for “science” ? This is no more scientific than religion (and I don’t mean the idea of a Creator, which is very plausible – but generic religions)

August 24, 2019 5:19 am

And thus the proof of the non-existence of God continues. While intellectually simulating and subject to hours of philosophical debate in metaphysics and pseudo science, the fact remains that it’s a frivolous exercise. Any public funds given to such blather is a crime meaning for those wishing to pursue “life on planets we’ll never visit in a few billion years” should be funded by private money – not public.
After all, even the Greens should agree that the money is better spent on burying CO2 by converting it back into coal or such. Even funding research into fusion for energy would be public funds better spent.

John Tillman
Reply to  cedarhill
August 24, 2019 11:02 am

No one can prove or disprove the God hypothesis. In science that would be confirm or show false. It’s not a testable hypothesis, so lies outside the realm of science.

Reply to  John Tillman
August 27, 2019 10:46 am

Why is it almost universally assumed that a God would want us to believe in Him? Of what possible value would the faith of imperfect, fallible, almost totally-ignorant mortals be to a perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful, and limitless Being?

Michael Graebner
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
August 27, 2019 12:44 pm

Because we are created in God’s image and we have intrinsic worth. If you love someone, spouse, kids…. do you stop loving them because they are not perfect?

God loves us all even knowing we may not love Him back. That is the only way to have true love, if the person you love has the choice to reject you.

John Tillman
Reply to  jorgekafkazar
August 28, 2019 7:53 pm

Why would be known but to God. Maybe, alone in eternity, He set in motion a universe which would produce semi-sentient beings to worship Him and beg benefits from Him.

It must be lonely out there in infinity of space and time.

Actually, Sumerian myth, the ultimate source of the New Testament, posits something along these lines. But then the Sea and Storm God grows tired of the noise and squabbling of its human creations.

YHWH was originally the Hebrew storm god and chief god, as was Marduk of the Babylonians and Baal of the Ugaritic and other northern Levantine Semitic peoples. His holy tetragrammaton YHWH is best translated as “He blows”.

But on Levantine coins, He’s also shown in a dky chariot, a la Apollo, the Greek sun god.

In any case, YHWH grew from chief of the pantheon, to the One True God during the course of OT history. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” meant just what it implies. You can worship other gods, but I’m Numero Uno, and don’t you forget it! Otherwise the Assyrians will come down like wolves upon the sheep fold and carry you off into captivity or worse!

Michael Graebner
Reply to  John Tillman
August 29, 2019 10:06 am

<<>> Christians believe in a triune God so in a sense God was always in community.

Your interpretation of the First Commandment is incorrect. Deut. 6:4-5

Concerning the origin of Yahweh it is extremely unlikely that a monotheistic religion would originate form a polytheistic religion.

August 24, 2019 5:34 am

Its in the same category as the “”Dark matter””. They cannot see vast parts of the Universe, so they must give it a name . Then with a name it becomes a something and thus it can be moddled.


August 24, 2019 5:58 am

The climatoligists called, they want their models back.

‘Making sense of these remote observations requires the development of sophisticated models for planetary climate and evolution’

‘Sophisticated’ models they are.

‘to allow scientists to recognize which of these distant planets that might host life.’

Very important to know.

‘could be better suited to support life that is more abundant or more active than life on Earth’

I feel no envy.

August 24, 2019 6:21 am

A new study indicates that some exoplanets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself has. “This is a surprising conclusion”, said lead researcher Dr Stephanie Olson, “it shows us that conditions on some exoplanets with favourable ocean circulation patterns could be better suited to support life that is more abundant or more active than life on Earth.”

To me, no more surprising than the opposite. Why do I get the feeling that there are some preconceptions involved? [ret]

may have“, “could be” … [sigh!]

Peter Morris
August 24, 2019 6:22 am

I’m hoping it’s the science writing that’s so dismal, and not the actual modelers themselves, but this is very disturbing.

Given how often actual measured discoveries are at variance with some model prediction, they should be far more cautious in their wording.

Saying Earth could be “more habitable” stokes me as insanely prideful. More habitable compared to what?

Our current database of habitable planets only has one entry.

Dan Cody
August 24, 2019 6:30 am

‘The internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand,the largest experiment in anarchy.” – Eric Schmidt

August 24, 2019 6:44 am

What I find fascinating is that 4000 planets have been confirmed. What you have to know is that planets can only be observed as they transit in front of the star they orbit, from our point of view. Most possible orbits will not do this. The planet will never come between us and the star, therefor is not observable to us. So there must be a huge number of planets in this same area of space which we do not observe. It is an interesting thought. It is also good to note that the scheme of planet detection is hugely biased to very large planets which orbit very close to small stars. So this means, again, what we observe is not representative of what is out there.

So is there life out there?
Of Course! Who do you think is building all those spaceships which have been giving the US Navy fits lately?

Reply to  TonyL
August 24, 2019 7:35 am

Errr… No. Many exoplanets are discovered by the fact that their primary is “wobbling” as they orbit a common center. No transit necessary, just Newtonian mechanics, expensive observation instruments, and a generous computing budget.

Actually, the “wobble” is the only way to work out the mass(es) involved.

Now, you are correct that this is much easier to do when the planet is a closely orbiting super-Jovian, which is why just about all of the first planets identified were that. Newer discoveries, though, are trending towards planets not all that much more massive than Earth, and farther away from the primary (and those are the interesting ones, when one is speculating about life on them).

John Tillman
Reply to  TonyL
August 24, 2019 8:10 am

Transit has become the most important method of detecting exoplanets, but at least four others have been used and more are possible. The other four are microlensing, radial velocity, timing and direct imaging.

Tom Abbott
August 24, 2019 7:13 am

I support building the biggest telescopes we can manage to build. It’s a good thing to be able to see as far and as clearly as possible. No telling what we might learn.

For discovering whether life can evolve on a planet other than Earth, we should focus on exploring Mars, which is our best bet for finding life, if it does indeed happen whenever favorable conditions are available. If it does, then some sign of it should be on Mars.

John Tillman
Reply to  Tom Abbott
August 24, 2019 8:57 am

Mars remains a leading candidate for past and even possibly present life, but other solar system worlds are now considered at least as good, if not better places to look. Some moons of Jupiter and Saturn have attracted the attention of astrobiology researchers, and even the atmosphere of Venus.

August 24, 2019 7:22 am

“The discovery of exoplanets has accelerated the search for life outside our solar system.”

Translation: In order to finance this search NASA will need a lot more funding, the sort of funding that prevailed during the first half of The Sixties.

Go here …

August 24, 2019 7:50 am

Here’s the headline from an article written about a year ago …

“NASA Discovered Evidence of Life on Mars 40 Years Ago, Then Set It On Fire”

And here’s what is stated in the final two sentences …

“Indeed, the study suggests that organic molecules might exist at many sites all over the Red Planet. Whether that means there’s microbial life there — and whether humans can confirm that life before setting it ablaze — remains to be seen.”

What the headline giveth, the final two sentences taketh away.

NASA Discovered Evidence of Life on Mars 40 Years Ago, Then Set It On Fire | Live Science

August 24, 2019 7:59 am

“By 1926, our top scientists had proven there is life on Mars”

Scientific Consensus For Life On Mars | The Deplorable Climate Science Blog

August 24, 2019 8:54 am

From Wikipedia …

“Allan Hills 84001 (commonly abbreviated ALH84001[1]) is a fragment of a Martian meteorite that was found in the Allan Hills in Antarctica on December 27, 1984, by a team of American meteorite hunters from the ANSMET project. Like other members of the shergottite–nakhlite–chassignite (SNC) group of meteorites, ALH84001 is thought to have originated on Mars. However, it does not fit into any of the previously discovered SNC groups. Its mass upon discovery was 1.93 kilograms (4.3 lb).

“In 1996, a group of scientists claimed to have found evidence for microscopic fossils of bacteria in the meteorite, suggesting that these organisms also originated on Mars. The claims immediately made headlines worldwide, culminating in then-U.S. president Bill Clinton giving a speech about the potential discovery.[2] These claims were controversial from the beginning, and the wider scientific community ultimately rejected the hypothesis once all the unusual features in the meteorite had been explained without requiring life to be present. Despite there being no convincing evidence of Martian life, the initial paper and the enormous scientific and public attention caused by it are considered turning points in the history of the developing science of astrobiology.[3]”

Reply to  Marv
August 24, 2019 9:22 am

After 10 years, few believe life on Mars
Updated 8/6/2006 4:28 PM ET
By Matt Crenson, Ap National Writer
It was a science fiction fantasy come true: Ten years ago this summer, NASA announced the discovery of life on Mars.
At a Washington, D.C., news conference, scientists showed magnified pictures of a four-pound Martian meteorite riddled with wormy blobs that looked like bacterial colonies. The researchers explained how they had pried numerous clues from the rock, all strongly supporting their contention that microscopic creatures once occupied its nooks and crannies.

It was arguably the space agency’s most imagination-gripping moment since Apollo. Space buffs and NASA officials said that it just might be the scientific discovery of the century.

“If the results are verified,” the late Carl Sagan pronounced, “it is a turning point in human history.”

Ten years later, the results have not been verified. Skeptics have found non-biological explanations for every piece of evidence that was presented on Aug. 6, 1996. And though they still vigorously defend their claim, the NASA scientists who advanced it now stand alone in their belief.

(“NASA scientists who advanced it now stand alone in their belief.” What a surprise!)

“We certainly have not convinced the community, and that’s been a little bit disappointing,” said David McKay, a NASA biochemist and leader of the team that started the scientific episode.

But even though the majority of his colleagues don’t buy his “life on Mars” theory — McKay’s own brother, also a NASA scientist, is one of his most prominent critics — many say they respect him and greatly appreciate his efforts.

The announcement and the technical paper that followed it practically created exobiology, the scientific field that investigates the potential for life on other planets.

“Without that paper I wouldn’t be working in this field,” said Martin Fisk, a marine geologist who studies how bacteria survive under the sea floor, partly because their harsh environment may resemble that of extraterrestrial life.

Debating the claim has helped researchers develop standards that will eventually prove useful for evaluating the presence of life in other Martian meteorites or a sample from the red planet. It has given the scientific community ideas about exactly where on the planet they would most like to scoop up a sample, should they ever get to retrieve one.

And it is undeniable that McKay and his colleagues have drawn attention to what is — whether it contains evidence of life or not — a very interesting rock.

The rock in question was discovered in Antarctica, where rocks that fall from the heavens are easy to spot on the icy glacial plains. Its name, ALH84001, indicates that it was the first meteorite found during the 1984 research season in the Allan Hills, an especially meteorite-rich area in the Trans-Antarctic Mountains.

At first ALH84001 was misclassified, so it wasn’t until 1993 that researchers even realized the rock came from Mars. That was interesting enough, because at the time fewer than a dozen Martian meteorites were known to science.

But ALH84001 also turned out to be much more ancient than the other known Martian meteorites. At 4.5 billion years old, it dates from a period of Martian history when liquid water — a requirement for the presence of life — probably existed at the now barren planet’s surface.

It made sense to ask: Could there be fossils of ancient Martian microbes, or maybe traces of them, preserved in the cracks and pore spaces of ALH84001?

The NASA scientists proffered four reasons to support their view that the answer to that question is “Yes.”

First, chemical analysis showed that the meteorite contained a variety of organic molecules known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs. PAHs can be produced by biological processes, and that’s what McKay and his colleagues argued. But they are also commonly found in asteroids, comets and meteorites, not to mention the Antarctic ice where ALH84001 is estimated to have lain for 13,000 years. For that reason, skeptics immediately dismissed the importance of PAHs in the Martian meteorite.

A second line of evidence — that the elongated blobs in the electron microscope images could be fossils of ancient Martian bacteria — was also rejected pretty quickly by most scientists.

The problem was, those blobs were much smaller than any bacteria that have ever been observed on Earth. A National Research Council panel concluded in 1998 that the blobs were 100 to 1,000 times too small to be free-living organisms because they couldn’t have held all the proteins, DNA and other molecules necessary for even the simplest metabolic processes.

You could argue that perhaps Martian life evolved a more compact biochemistry, or that the blobs shriveled as they fossilized. At one point McKay and the other NASA scientists suggested the blobs might be pieces of larger organisms.

“That was only mentioned once or twice and never brought up again,” said Allan Treiman, a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

The two other lines of evidence survived longer. Both revolved around minerals sprinkled through the meteorite that could have been produced by microbes.

The first mineral, carbonate, is typically formed on earth by the remains of living organisms that make shells and other skeletal parts out of minerals they extract from seawater. Some of those organisms can be quite tiny. So finding carbonate in ALH84001 could indicate the presence of ancient microbes in the rock.

The story is similar for magnetite, the other mineral of interest in ALH84001. Some bacteria produce extraordinarily small and pure magnetite crystals, then align the magnetic grains to make a microscopic compass needle that helps them navigate.

The bacteria don’t use their internal compasses to find north; they use them to tell up from down. Earth’s spherical shape means that a compass needle in either hemisphere points at least somewhat downward, so the magnetite grains help the microbes sense where they are with respect to the planet’s surface.

Some of the most evolutionarily ancient bacteria on Earth produce magnetite, McKay and his colleagues pointed out. Perhaps ancient Martian microbes did as well; at least some of the magnetite grains in ALH84001 share the shape, small size and remarkable purity of those produced by bacteria on Earth.

Of all the lines of evidence presented by the NASA scientists, it was the magnetite grains that proved most provocative. They were embedded in the carbonate along with other iron-containing minerals in such an unusual arrangement that something out of the ordinary must have put them there — could it have been alive?

“The shape of the magnetite grains is still rather distinctive,” McKay said. “If it were found on Earth it would be a very strong biosignature.”

For years McKay and his detractors argued about how distinctive the magnetite grains in ALH84001 are, and whether a non-biological process could have produced them. Certainly nobody had ever produced similar magnetite grains in the laboratory.

Then somebody did. In 2001 a second team of NASA scientists, including McKay’s brother Gordon and a consultant to the space agency named D.C. Golden, managed to cook up a batch of magnetite grains very similar to the ones in ALH84001. Golden and Gordon McKay were also able to incorporate the magnetite grains into balls of carbonate like the ones David McKay and his colleagues described in 1996.

“He got a little testy about the results we were getting,” said Gordon McKay, whose office is down the hall from his brother’s. “What we have shown is that it is possible to form these things inorganically.”

What’s more, their laboratory method simulated conditions ALH84001 is known to have experienced during its time on Mars.

Yet David McKay insists his brother’s team has not accurately described the synthetic crystals’ shape, and that they aren’t sufficiently similar to the ones found in ALH84001. He also suggests that the purity of the magnetite crystals stems not from the lab process itself, but from using unrealistically pure raw materials as a starting point.

Most of the scientific community doesn’t buy those arguments.

“Personally I don’t understand why (Gordon McKay’s and) Golden’s work hasn’t just been the final word on it,” said Treiman, the Lunar and Planetary Institute geologist.

Now David McKay has added another meteorite to the mix. At a March scientific meeting he presented microscopic images of the Nakhla meteorite, another Martian specimen. The pictures resemble pits that terrestrial bacteria create as they literally eat the volcanic rock of the sea floor.

“When I first saw it I was really struck by the similarity,” said marine geologist Fisk, who is a professor at Oregon State University.

So far the scientific community hasn’t shown much interest in David McKay’s analysis of the Nakhla meteorite, partly because it dates from a more recent period of Martian history when the planet was just as frigid and inhospitable to life as it is today. In fact all of the 30-some Martian meteorites now known to science, with the exception of ALH84001, are probably too young to have contained living organisms.

But new Martian meteorites turn up almost every year. Eventually, another 4.5 billion-year-old piece of the red planet is going to be discovered.

“Sooner or later we’re going to get another old rock,” said Massachusetts Institute of Technology geophysicist Benjamin Weiss.

And when that happens, the talk about life on Mars will begin anew.

(And so will the massive funding.)

After 10 years, few believe life on Mars –

John Tillman
Reply to  Marv
August 24, 2019 11:00 am

IMO, the balance of evidence is against the “biomorphs'” being proto-organisms. The smallest such structures are too small to contain all the systems required by most modern prokaryotes.

However, the structures do resemble some modern terrestrial bacteria and their appendages. Some are much smaller than any known extant Earth microbes. But others are on the order of 100–200 nm in size, within the limits of Pelagibacter ubique, the most common bacterium on Earth, which ranges from 120-200 nm. The nanobacteria hypothesis is also still out there.

RNA proto-organisms expected to have lived on Earth during the period when ALH84001 was ejected from Mars may also have been as small or smaller than these structures. Modern RNA viruses and viroids are often as little as a few dozen nanometers. Some of the biomorphs are even larger, at one to two microns in diameter.

So, while the jury is still out, the verdict is liable to be against the proponents.

August 24, 2019 8:59 am

Is the Earth perfect? No.
Therefor it is possible for another planet to be better.

This is news?

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  MarkW
August 24, 2019 9:29 am

“Better” is subjective. It would just be different.

John Tillman
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
August 24, 2019 10:26 am

In this case, “better” might mean “even more hospitable to life, yielding greater diversity of organisms”.

Diversity is contingent not only on landforms, oceans and atmospheres, but satellites and pure dumb luck. Had we a second moon which took the K/Pg impactor hit for us, there might still be pterosaurs. Unless humans had hunted them to extinction recently. But arguably no humans without the Yucatan asteroid impact and its consequent mass extinction event, which opened up so many niches for mammals.

Joel O'Bryan
August 24, 2019 9:09 am

“We expect oceans to be important in regulating some of the most compelling remotely detectable signs of life on habitable worlds, but our understanding of oceans beyond our solar system is currently very rudimentary. “

How about “understanding” is “non-existent”. Rudimentary means they have some principle to back up opinions of their understanding. Their “educated guesses” are still just guesses without any data.

Junk science all the way down.
Directly along the lines of Dr Michael Crichton’s “Aliens Cause Global Warming” Michelin Lecture in 2003. It’s pseudoscience; just opinion masquerading as science.

Gordon Dressler
August 24, 2019 9:57 am

To the attention of ctm:

Above article headline: “Study shows some exoplanets may have greater variety of life than exists on Earth”
Article’s first sentence: “A new study indicates that some exoplanets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself has.”

Those two statements are widely different (I might go so far as to say “worlds apart” if the pun wasn’t so obvious) and the first is not at all supported by the second, nor anything contained in the rest of the article.

We are awaiting the first piece of evidence that life exists anywhere in the Universe, excluding Earth. I personally believe it must, but science is not based on beliefs.

I have observed over a number of years that WUWT is much better than this in avoiding “inflating” headlines.

August 24, 2019 10:07 am

Hard SF fans rejoice!

I had heard that somebody got spectrum info from transits. Is there anything on that?

And then there’s doubting Darwin; Has to do with math. Also some really interesting new stuff on the Cambrian Explosion. About forty-five minutes.

John Tillman
Reply to  Richard Aubrey
August 24, 2019 11:07 am

Mathematical calculations used by creationists are based on ludicrous false assumuptions about how molecular biology actually works.

The Ediacaran animals which evolved before the Cambrian are better understood with each passing year. Some are clearly related to the phyla thought to have originated in the Cambrian, but others remain strange. Explosions of new forms are usual after a mass extinction event, such as that which ended the Ediacaran, when organisms dependant upon slime mats ate themselves out of house and home. Following the end Permian “Great Dying”, the Triassic experienced a similar explosion.

Lloyd Martin Hendaye
August 24, 2019 11:12 am

Of the Milky Way Galaxy’s (MWG) approximately 300 billion stars, “mass ratios” indicate that 6-billion (2.0%) are long-lived, Main Sequence Red- or Yellow-dwarf F- and G-type suns. Extrapolating 21st Century observations, at least 2.4 billion (40%) of these six billion cool, dim systems incorporate geo-physically active, warm-and-wet Earth-type planets orbiting in “habitable zones” amenable to spontaneously self-emergent life.

Assuming that 480 mm (one-in-five, 20%), habitable planets evolve indigenous organic strains, while one in a thousand (.001) well-situated Earth-type worlds matures at least one Advanced Extraterrestrial Civilization (AETC) –a high-tech culture capable of interstellar communication, perhaps quantum-physical telesponding– then (pace Frank Drake) over a typical galaxy’s coherent span of c. 12½ billion years our Island Universe’s number of star-faring AETCs becomes a minimum .20 x 10-4 x 2.4 x 109 = .48 x 105 = 48,000 per Milky Way-type galaxy to date.

To answer Enrico Fermi’s 1950 question, “Where are they?” we reply: Our galaxy, thereby Minkowski’s visible Universe, is very young, while star-faring super-cultures are widely dispersed in space-and-time (likely no more than 4.8 / 1.25 = four per galaxy every million years). This is fortunate, because all full-fledged AETCs pose existential threats to developing competitors. (Think Earth’s socio-culturally imbalanced technological advances over the negligibly short time-span from AD 1750 to 2000+.) Though isolated AETCs in the Milky Way alone may already have appeared by tens of thousands, even the most ancient star-faring cultures rarely interact.
As for extra-galactic visitants, who knows?

Meantime… in the long run, rather than suffer entropic “heat death” over the next few hundred-billion years virtually all stable galaxies will gestate bloomin’, buzzin’ swarms of cosmic life. What that portends for future aeons, on scales all but incomprehensible, lies beyond human ken.

Lewis p Buckingham
Reply to  Lloyd Martin Hendaye
August 25, 2019 2:55 am

However, physical life must one day end,as the proton is speculated to have a half life,albeit long

It has long been considered to be a stable particle, but recent developments of grand unification models have suggested that it might decay with a half-life of about 10/32 power, years. Experiments are underway to see if such decays can be detected. Decay of the proton would violate the conservation of baryon number, and in doing so would be the only known process in nature which does so.

John Tillman
Reply to  Lewis p Buckingham
August 25, 2019 9:04 pm

In particle physics, proton decay is a hypothetical form of particle decay in which the proton decays into lighter subatomic particles, such as a neutral pion and a positron.

The proton decay hypothesis was first formulated by Andrei Sakharov in 1967. Despite significant experimental effort, proton decay has never been observed. If it does decay via a positron, the proton’s half-life is constrained to be at least 1.67×10^34 years

Threshold corrections to dimension-six proton decay operators in non-minimal SUSY SU(5) GUTs

August 24, 2019 11:58 am

Dean…It is one thing to have faith in a creator who just simply created everything perhaps in an instant out of nothing, but what we are discussing is the ‘chemistry’ about how all those basic chemical parts were able to self organize and become life. It is probable that this process in ubiquitous throughout the universe given the proper ingredients and circumstances. If so, it is probable that life, given enough time, evolves into a similar type of life we have with a similar RNA/DNA architecture complete with binocular vision when it becomes more advanced life. The entire universe is filled with pretty much the same basic elements, so it is probable that water exists fairly much everywhere in any of its phases. And probably so life.

While I am not particularly religious, I do think that the religious folk who see the explanation of science as part of God’s work is perfectly valid. No one can disprove an existence of a creator, and so it isn’t necessarily a stretch to think that that life comes about due to the rules of science. If there is a creator behind the science, no one can say for sure, but no one can say there isn’t a creator who created the science.

Reply to  Earthling2
August 25, 2019 2:43 pm

Let me see if I’ve got this straight:

Life couldn’t have developed complexity over 3,500,000,000 years, but it could have been poofed instantly. How does that work?

John Tillman
Reply to  Gamecock
August 25, 2019 8:07 pm


It is a 100% certainty that life arose on Earth within a billion years of the planet’s formation. Probably in half that time.

There is zero evidence whatsoever that God was involved in that process, but you’re free to inject Him into it at whatever point you want. Which is what I told my students at the traditionally Baptist college where I taught biology and genetics.

It’s just that there is no need for supernatural intervention. But also no valid scientific reason for ruling it out. Even atheists, if honest, must admit that they can’t rule out God. But the God hypothesis is not scientific, since not testable and falsifiable, and explains nothing.

Which is how God wants it.

Reply to  Gamecock
August 27, 2019 2:12 pm

“Function-specifying, highly complex information comes only from a mind, and intelligence. So a mind, an intelligence, must have been the agent for the creation of biological information in genetic and epigenetic systems.”


“… an irreducibly complex system might arise by gradually co-opting parts that initially were dispensable but eventually become indispensable ….”
William A. Dembski 2004, p. 24.

‘Michael Behe’s term “irreducible complexity” is, to be frank, plainly silly — and here’s why.

“Irreducible complexity” is a simple concept. According to Behe, a system is irreducibly complex if its function is lost when a part is removed1. Behe believes that irreducibly complex systems cannot evolve by direct, gradual evolutionary mechanisms. However, standard genetic processes easily produce these structures. Nearly a century ago, these exact systems were predicted, described, and explained by the Nobel prize-winning geneticist H. J. Muller using evolutionary theory2. Thus, as explained below, so-called “irreducibly complex” structures are in fact evolvable and reducible. Behe gave irreducible complexity the wrong name.’

Michael Graebner
Reply to  Gamecock
August 27, 2019 7:09 pm

Hmmm, tell me how all mass/energy space/time came into existence from nothing at a finite time in the past. (FYI, a quantum vacuum and the law of gravity are not nothing).

You quoted Dembski, key words “might arise”. Or they might not arise. That is opinion not science.
“standard genetic processes easily produce these structures.” Where in reality do you see this happening? More speculation, which is what a lot of evolution is. Scientifically, evolution is not really science as it is not falsifiable. You can look at the fossil record and say “look, universal common descent.” While others may look at the same data and say, “universal common design.”

I read the talk origins essay and I felt it was too simplistic for the real world, and mostly opinion, not science.

John Tillman
Reply to  Gamecock
August 28, 2019 7:25 pm


I’ve repeatedly engaged the information whinings. There is no argument. It is simply a repeatedly observed fact that new genetic info is generated by mutations all the time, as I’ve pointed out time and again.

Biological and medical researchers, genetic engineers, applied scientists using directed evolution and synthetic biology base their entire careers on the fact of gain-of-function neomorphic mutations. They are legion and especially important in cancer research.

Just one of hundreds of recent papers on neomorphic mutations:

Neomorphic mutations create therapeutic challenges in cancer.

Neomorphic mutations create therapeutic challenges in cancer.

That mutations produce new protein-coding genes and other functional genetic changes is a fact, ie an observation seen over and over again for decades.

Those in the past can be traced through various lineages. Again, you’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for blatant lies.

John Tillman
Reply to  Gamecock
August 28, 2019 7:59 pm


Of course evolution is falsifiable. Its predictions have repeatedly been tested and is always confirmed. Creationism is always shown false.

As Haldane famoulsy quipped, “Pre-Cambrian fossil rabbits” would falsify evolution.

But you can’t falsify a fact, ie a repeated scientific observation.

Michael Graebner
Reply to  John Tillman
August 30, 2019 7:27 am

Since there are no pre-Cambrian organisms that are not even close to the Cambrian ones, would lead me to think Neo-Darwinism has be refuted. Darwin even said that would falsify his hypothesis. The recent announcement of Dickinsonia and the first animal has been shown to be false.

Reply to  Earthling2
August 27, 2019 2:04 pm

“People who say that intelligence is ruled out as a cause “because Science^TM” are engaging in a sleight of hand.”

It takes 600,000 doctors in the U.S. to deal with the problems of our “intelligent design.” If you are correct, and you obviously aren’t, your God HATES US TERRIBLY.

John Tillman
Reply to  Gamecock
August 28, 2019 8:11 pm


We’ve repeatedly addressed your spewing of creationist lies.

You just aren’t paying attention.

The bogus thought experiment is based upon ludicrous, preposterous, ridiculous, unphysical assumptions, not upon objective reality. GIGO climate models are far closer to reality than the garbage creationists want to put in.

Life started with a tiny genome, which grew over time. This growth is visible in the many genomes which we have now sequenced. Whole genome duplication has been an important mutation in growing genomic size, but so too have been substitutions and even deletions. We can now see precisely which mutations led to novel functions and proteins.

Please realize that you’ve been lied to by paid, blasphemous liars, and educate yourself on real life science.


Jim Whelan
August 24, 2019 2:08 pm

Funny how we can know more about the planets that are light years away and which are barely detectably by their influence on the light and gravitational effect of their nearby stars.

Oh wait, we are just creating a bunch of models about exoplanets. That’s then same way we learn about the effects of the complex interactions in earth’s atmosphere so they must be accurate.

Stanley J Willis
August 24, 2019 4:21 pm

1. The tale-tell sign of life on Earth is not water, it is the high level of very reactive oxygen in the atmosphere.
Exobiologists need to be looking for signs of things purely random natural processes won’t produce.
2. All the mega-molecules of a living thing have to be produced simultaneously in same place in order for life to
arise. What are the initial conditions (temperature, pressure, chemical mixture, denity, etc) that produce all
the random combinations that will randomly form all the parts of a living thing that can randomly form the
the structures and systems and information of a living thing? What changes randomness into order?

John Tillman
Reply to  Stanley J Willis
August 25, 2019 8:50 pm

No “intelligence” required. Just chemistry under the right conditions.

Biochemistry is chemistry, not magic. This has been known for over 200 years.

John Tillman
Reply to  Stanley J Willis
August 25, 2019 8:58 pm

Life results from purely natural organic chemistry.

John Tillman
Reply to  John Tillman
August 28, 2019 7:44 pm


The “ideas” you’ve bought into are lies, out of date in the 19th century, shown false by all the evidence in the world.

August 24, 2019 4:42 pm

‘There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.’
-Mark Twain

August 24, 2019 6:26 pm

“Making sense of these remote observations requires the development of sophisticated models for planetary climate and evolution”

Given we cannot even model our OWN climate, one wonders how much ‘garbage out’ there is in this ‘research.’ And we live on Earth and the ‘evolution’ process here is full of holes gaping so wide it is a stretch to even call it a Theory.

I think this ‘research’ should be called Science Fiction and published as such.

John Tillman
Reply to  MarkMcD
August 25, 2019 8:57 pm

What “holes” do you imagine exist in the fact of evolution, repeatedly observed in the wild and created and recreated in the lab?

Wayne Job
August 24, 2019 8:42 pm

I saw article about 40 years ago, they took a muddy puddle which is a soup of chemicals. Hit it with an artificial bolt of lightening, and presto, strands of chemicals formed. These were like the chemical chains that are the basis of life.

Maybe a warm world with lots of storms and lots of primordial soup started life and a billion years or so of mutations, gave us what we have and what went before us.

Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
August 24, 2019 9:46 pm

With laser frequency combs, we are approaching the ability to measure time to 1 part in 10E18. Once that is accomplished, we will be able to establish synthetic aperture optical space telescopes with baselines on the order of 80 Astronomical Units. We would be able to resolve the pupil of a human eye at 10 light-years distance, and the license plate of a car – albeit not the number – at 260 light years distance.

For the first time ever, I am optimistic that we may be able to observe large-scale life on other planets within a 1,000 light-year radius, if any exists.

It probably does.

John Tillman
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
August 25, 2019 8:46 am

Dunno how many stars lie within 1000 ly, but assume over a million.

Odds are good that some of their systems include bodies with life, but not sure about large-scale.

Thanks for the info.

Gordon Dressler
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly LS, BSA Ret.
August 25, 2019 4:52 pm

“We would be able to resolve the pupil of a human eye at 10 light-years distance, and the license plate of a car – albeit not the number – at 260 light years distance”

Only theoretically if there was absolute vacuum in interstellar space (i.e., no intervening gas or dust that could refract/diffract EM waves), no interstellar magnetic fields to interact with the given EM signals, and there was no gravitation warping of the intervening spacetime between the source of the EM and the SAO telescope receivers, any of which would ruin the EM wave coherence necessary for SAO telescopes to function to the resolving precision you suggest.

There is the purely theoretical universe, and there is the actual universe . . . the two are not close to being the same.

Alan the Brit
August 24, 2019 11:15 pm

“This study is the blind leading the blind leading the blind.” Hey, I had no idea you were an expert in guvment thinking! 😉

Wiliam Haas
August 25, 2019 1:46 am

“May have” To really make such a determination we will have to send probes with plenty of sensors including landers and rovers to the most likely candidate planets. How long is that going to take and at what cost? We have yet to send a probe to a body outside of our own solar system let alone planets that are tens of hundreds of light years away. Maybe all the current candidates are more like Venus or at best have alien populations that would be very hostile towards us. If there is life out there that is more intelligent then we are than they will find us long before we can find them.

William Wallace
August 25, 2019 4:29 pm

I’m late to the party, but this reminds me of the learned opinions about canals and diversity of life on Mars from back in the 20th Century. This continued right up into the 1960s.

Statistically I’m sure there are some amazing planets out there in the universe. So far everything looks pretty sterile once we leave our own atmosphere.

In the mean time, help me find the Stargate in Egypt.

August 25, 2019 5:30 pm

How do we know if this particular rock actually came from Mars.

One day we will really have a rock from Mars, but not yet, so what are we
basing this on ?


John Tillman
Reply to  Michael
August 25, 2019 7:50 pm

Its chemical and physical traits are characteristic on Mars. Thanks to recent martian probes, its age and provenance have been narrowed down.

A Younger Age for ALH84001 and Its Geochemical Link to Shergottite Sources in Mars

Berényi Péter
August 26, 2019 3:58 am

A new study indicates that some exoplanets may have better conditions for life to thrive than Earth itself has.

Unfortunately the early appearance of life on Earth is consistent with an arbitrarily low a priori probability of ABIOGENESIS. So the usual line of argument “Abiogenesis must be an easy step, since life appeared on Earth fast” does not hold water.

We only know the conditional expected value of life’s appearance, that is, “How fast life had to be generated, provided we ask this very question”. And the answer to that, pretty fast, regardless its a priory probability.

The reason for that is twofold:
1. It is amply proven in lab experiments, that one needs a reducing atmosphere to have a chance of abiogenesis. That is, it is not enough to have a nitrogen – carbon dioxide atmosphere, one also needs methane, ammonia and possibly hydrogen.
2. Earth could have a reducing atmosphere only for a very short time, for all the hydrogen not tied down in water, escaped to space fast.

That means life either was generated fast or not at all. We do know it was generated on Earth, otherwise there would be no one to ask this question. Therefore the fast appearance of life tells us nothing about the a priori probability of abiogenesis.

The a priori probability of abiogenesis can be as low as 10-1000 or such, so we are alone in the visible universe.

John Tillman
Reply to  Berényi Péter
August 26, 2019 12:51 pm

Even after the hydrogen and helium had escaped, Hadean Earth’s atmosphere would still have been reducing, thanks to remaining reductants such as methane, ammonia, H2S, SO2, etc, plus water vapor and small percentages of N2 and CO2. Toward the end of the Hadean Eon, volcanic activity increased the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Sunlight might also have made O3 high in the atmosphere.

Unless you go for panspermia, it’s self-evident that life did arise on earth in late Hadean or early Archaean time, almost as soon as the planet cooled enough to be habitable, where “soon” is on the order of 100 miilion years.

August 31, 2019 8:03 am

One of the interesting things to come out in the early sixties was the Drake equation. The goal of the equation was to support SETI, and they were going to come up with numbers that did that. I think SETI is a total waste of time, effort, money, and resources. However, the numbers in the equation are interesting.

The first number is the rate of star formation in the galaxy. Their initial estimate was about 1 per year. (I thought that number was the number of Sun-like stars in the galaxy.) Anyway, this is the only number in the equation where you could base it on actual evidence. Most agreed 1 per year was conservative. Today it’s more like 3 per year.

The second number was the fraction of stars with planets. Now this number in the sixties was completely unknown. It could be zero, it could one, or it could be anywhere in between. There was no way to make an educated guess, because we had no evidence of planets existing around other stars–not a single one.

The three basic methods that could be used to detect planets orbiting other stars required incredibly precise instruments which exceeded our abilities in the sixties. It amazing how the science has advanced, so in the last thirty years we are able to detect planets around other stars. It appears the fraction of stars with planets is one–at least for population I stars like our Sun.

The third number is the fraction of planets that might support life. And this number is still a problem today. The easiest planets to find are large planets that are orbiting close to their star, and that’s what we currently have==lots of so-called hot Jupiters.

Using our Solar System as a prototype, you would expect smaller, rocky planets to form close to the star, with larger gas and ice giants forming outside the freeze line. So what are large gas giants doing close to their star? If they moved in from where they originally formed, then they would probably disrupt those small rocky planets–those planets than could harbor life.

Another problem is we can’t get computer simulations to form planets. We know that planets do form, and rather quickly. Once you get to a size where gravity can take over, then planet formation is easy. It’s getting from dust-sized to gravity-sized that’s the main problem.

Plus, computer simulations of planetary systems from first principles also fail. Either the planets slowly spiral in towards their star, or they slowly spiral out until they escape. This happens on the order of a million years. In order to stabilize these simulations for billions of years, they have to add a damping factor. Where in the physics of orbital mechanics do you find a damping factor? What’s the correct size of this factor?

It appears that on the order of millions of years, planetary orbits are chaotic. This might explain the faint-young-Sun paradox. The Earth is slowly spiraling outward.

The rest of the numbers in the Drake equation are total hocus-pocus. Finding exoplanets, however, is great science!


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